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Valley native has a strong arm

Did you know that arm wrestling is a sport? Former Snoqualmie Valley resident Laura Pizzano sure does. She is among the best female arm wrestlers in the state and holds the 2004 state title.

Now living in Bellevue, Pizzano, 24, grew up in the Valley, living first in Snoqualmie and then North Bend, graduating from Mount Si High School in 1999. Currently, she works for Whole Foods Market in Bellevue as a buyer for the dairy department. This, however, is her day job. On the side, Pizzano is an accomplished arm wrestler.

Her cousin is a world champion and the one who got her involved in this unique sport.

"He, for years, was trying to get me to come watch him because that was his sport, and finally, I was like, 'All right, I'll come watch you' and he's like, 'Why don't you just enter?' and I was like, 'OK.' So I entered and I ended up taking second," she said. "I was like, 'Well, this is kind of fun.' "

This second-place finish in her first competition took place in February 2003 at the Rumble in Renton Arm Wrestling Tournament. Pizzano went on to win her first first-place finish in June 2003 at the Alfy's Pizza Power Pull in Everett. From there she proceeded to win the 2004 state title, and has several other first-place wins to her credit.

While she said she has not been to every tournament in Washington state, she has garnered first-place wins at almost every competition she has entered. An exception was her recent loss at the 2005 state tournament held on Dec. 10 in Sequim. The loss was a devastating blow that Pizzano vows has motivated her to train harder for next year's tournament in hopes of regaining her lost title.

Pizzano did not "train," per se, for her arm wrestling competitions beyond a few arm curls.

"I've always just been kind of naturally strong and never really ever worked out," Pizzano said. "After this year, though, I definitely need [to]. That's why I was upset I didn't win, but I wasn't completely disappointed because I didn't put all this training into it, you know?"

The rules for competitive arm wrestling are fairly simple and mostly center on maintaining hand grips and avoiding elbow fouls. To summarize, players have one minute to get a proper grip and if they receive two elbow fouls, the other player loses automatically. The tournaments are usually organized in double-elimination style, so even if you lose, you can still compete again. The most common venues for semi-formalized arm wrestling competitions are bars and taverns. There are typically entrance fees, which help defray costs.

"To me it's kind of comical in a way, but then when I actually get up there to arm wrestle someone, I totally get into this zone, and it's just, I don't know how to explain it ... it's very competitive," she said. "It's a very competitive sport, like people are like screaming and it's cool because you're up on the stage and all eyes are on you. It's cheesy. It's arm wrestling. It's over the top."

Her own natural drive to win spurs her on.

"I've always been really competitive. I always played sports in high school. This was just a different angle, I guess.

"There are quite a few people who take it really seriously, but everyone has really good sportsmanship. Of course, there are a few who think that they're the best and when they lose they get pretty mad."

When she's not working or arm wrestling, Pizzano plays a little music and is an avid www.myspace.com fan. She also enjoys spending time with her family and friends.

College is down the road.

"I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do. I really, really like my job at Whole Foods. As of right now, I'm happy where I'm at," she said.

She said the benefits and opportunities at her job make it perfect for her at this point.

Her family members are, of course, her biggest fans.

"They love it. They think it's great. They think it's so awesome. That's what keeps me actually partially motivated," she said.

Pizzano's arm-wrestling exploits have even earned her fame, of a sort.

"This one girl the other day was like, 'I need your autograph; you're the most famous person I've ever met,' " she said.

Her future plans with the sport include regaining her title and practicing more. She wants to develop her techniques more so she can take on all comers, even those of higher weight classes. An eventual goal would be to attend the world arm-wrestling championships in Reno, Nev.

Men far outnumber women in arm wrestling, Pizzano said, and that's something she'd like to see change. She would also like to see tournaments closer to Seattle and Bellevue, because most tournaments are held in north or south Puget Sound.

Pizzano loves arm wrestling because it serves as both a vehicle for social interaction and a healthy way to vent stress.

"I've played a lot of sports but I've never been able to get into as deep of a zone as when I get up there. It's on a totally different level," she said.

There are some down sides, though.

"A lot of times when we're ... just hanging out, partying or whatever, the arm wrestling champ will come up and I'll just have a swarm of people [saying] 'I want to arm wrestle you,' " she said.

By end of the evening, Pizzano said she can get pretty tired. This is especially true when the male arm wrestlers challenge her to impromptu matches.

"I'm like, 'I'm still a girl.' I'm a women's champion ... but I have beaten quite a few guys," she admits. "It never ends.

"I would say it's a hobby, a chance for me and my friends all to get together and just go out and have a good time."

For more information on arm wrestling in Washington state, check out Pacific Northwest Armwrestling's Web site at www.pnwarmwrestling.com or for more information on arm wrestling in general, visit www.armwrestling.com.

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